Daniel Fox, the Canadian founder of The Wild Image Project, is fascinated with large mammals and spends much of his time studying them in exotic environments including the volcanic landscape of Hawaii, the Alaskan coast and, recently, Utah’s own Antelope Island. He was drawn to the island for its large, free-roaming buffalo population, which is one of the largest in the United States. A lover of nature, animals and life in general, Daniel attempts to capture the “wild images” the world has to offer through his photography and writing. Follow his adventures on WildImageProject.com as well as Behance.net, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Some of your photos seem to have been taken from less than five feet away from a buffalo’s face. Did you ever have any close calls?
I don’t try to stress or pressure the animals. But I had maybe two or three close calls. If they see you and you don’t move, then you have good chances. On a couple of occasions, they literally came up about 10 feet away from me. At that moment, you just have to be really relaxed, not nervous, because when you deal with wild animals, it’s about who holds the fear. If you show that you’re afraid, you’ve given away your security, and it’s the same way with them. It’s obviously not something to recommend to anyone. At the park, people are supposed to stay in their cars or on the trails. Funny enough, apparently there are more accidents with buffaloes in the United States than there are with bears. The reason is that people push the envelope a lot more with buffaloes. With bears, usually people are more afraid, so they will keep their distance.
How did Antelope Island compare to other places you’ve photographed?
Antelope Island is amazing and definitely a place to visit—even more since it is so close by. The place has a great history, which is more relevant for anyone that lives around Salt Lake City. It is rich with culture and wilderness.
Did studying American Indian folklore about buffalo enhance your experience?
The buffalo was extremely important in the culture of the Native Americans. They saw their survival as dependent on the buffalo. Back in the days of the extermination and the conquering of the Indians, there was a saying that said something like for every buffalo that you were killing, you were eliminating at the same time one Indian. So there was always this really intense association between the natives and the buffaloes. There’s definitely a sense of time and history in their eyes. They’ve been around for a long time. It’s the same kind of look that you would find with the elephants. It’s a deep, ancestral stare that they have. There is definitely some old soul in these animals.
Your experiences remind me of Into the Wild. Do you see any similarities between you and Chris McCandless?
I definitely have a different rationale for going into the wild than he did. He idealized nature as this separate place where we go and find peace. We look at nature from the outside, like we’re not a part of it, when in reality we’re all a part of the dynamic force that is the planet. There is an extreme disconnect with nature nowadays. Nature is something we put on the wall or that we click “like” on Facebook.
It’s not an easy place; it’s a really cruel, hard place. You have the predators and the prey; everyone has to survive. But after you spend a lot of time in it, it is a really humbling experience. You realize that nature is bigger than you and you bring your ego down a little bit, realizing that the human species is just one of the species in the complexity of life.
In my writings, I try to bring back a sense of perspective. For me, it’s all about perspective. One of the things that’s inspiring when I go back into the wild is that things are simple. Things are the way they are: There’s nothing ugly, there’s nothing beautiful, there’s nothing wrong, nothing good. Things are what they are, and everyone is trying to figure out their way to survive in that. There is a certain simplicity in all this that is pretty refreshing and inspiring.
The subtitle of The Wild Image Project is “the power of nature to restore the human spirit.” How has nature played a restorative role in your life?
The Japanese have a specific word, shinrin yoku, which translates to “forest bathing.” Like taking a bath in the forest. But it’s the idea that the soul has to go back to its source, has to go back to replenish itself. The wilderness has always been a place of learning, but now we’re so behind city walls, behind the computer screen, and even when we go, it’s always with the camera, we’re not really experiencing the moment or seeing the places. We have our eyes, but we’re not really looking.
It’s amazing, when you start to look around at people. I take the ferry here in San Francisco, and often there are people on the deck of the ferry, and the entire trip from San Francisco to Sausalito, they are constantly looking through their phone, and it’s just really sad, because they are not in the moment. For me, the ultimate consequence of not being in touch with nature is that at the end of the day, you’re not in touch with life. Nature is life. It’s the humility of the process that makes you realize what life is all about. For me, it’s about the connection between us, life, and nature, and if you take out nature, you disconnect yourself from life. Eventually, the string will snap and we’ll wake up and have to re-assess our priorities.
How can people learn to let go of technology and embrace more of nature?
The reality with evolution is that we change when there’s an incentive to change. If there’s no incentive to change, people don’t change. It is one of the underlying problems with the conservation movement right now. They think that just because we know, we will be changing. It’s like how it says on boxes of cigarettes that it will kill you, but people still smoke anyway. You have to have a physical incentive for people to change. When it comes to technology, right now, people’s connection with it is one of pleasure, it creates something that people crave, it makes them feel good. When you go on Facebook, it’s this instant gratification. I post my life on it, and then people acknowledge me. Until there is a place where people start to see consequences that affect their quality of life, people are just going to eat technology up.
But the hope in all of this is that, independently of what happens in our society or our history, it’s always cyclical. Things come and go— they’re never forever. At the end of the day it’s going to be a question of values and principles. It’s about how we want a world where this is possible, and therefore we’re gonna have to protect. When Roosevelt created the national parks in the U.S., he didn’t do it for financial reasons; he did it because he wanted to be in a country where these places were available.
What’s the next location you'll be capturing?
I’m going to Hawaii in February and will be spending two months diving with whales, kayaking and backpacking on the island of Maui. Then for spring, I’m going to Kodiak island in Alaska and will be there for two months. During late summer, it’s gonna be the Tetons and Yellowstone, and then for the end of the year, I’ll be on the channel islands off of California.
Hilary Packham Twitter: @packdawg4